Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pitney Bowes

In the year of the US postage stamp’s 160th anniversary, seems like a good time to talk about changing the course of a company.

America’s first official stamps were offered for sale on 1 July 1847, in 5¢ and 10¢ values. Seventy-plus years later, on 16 November 1920, the Pitney Bowes Model M postage meter became the first commercially used metering device in the world.

Walter Bowes merged his Universal Stamping Machine Company with Arthur Pitney’s American Postage Company the year before. The result was the Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Company. In 1920, there was the telephone, the telegraph (Internet One) and the US mail.

There was no such thing as the mailstream – a phrase Pitney Bowes is now counting on to position itself for the 21st Century.

The visual at the top of this post is from a new Pitney Bowes marketing campaign. In one ad, this communication satellite’s solar panel has a Pitney Bowes postage meter impression. It’s supposed to represent the company’s advanced address-level data technology, which lets businesses analyze data better, to target their market more effectively. (“Innovation” is a hot word for Wall Street analysts.)

In another corporate ad, a newborn baby’s wrist-bracelet bears the Pitney Bowes postage meter impression. Copy tells readers that Pitney Bowes solutions help health-care providers accurately deliver government-mandated patient communications. (More regulation means more paperwork and the healthcare market is booming…another sector stock analysts watch closely.)

Both versions direct readers to the company’s Mailstream landing page. The campaign was developed by
OgilvyOne Worldwide in New York. It is supposed to include print, out-of-home and online media; the new ads, intro’d last November, aren’t up on the agency’s site yet.

A company press release makes it all sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: “The mailstream is all around you—a global force synonymous with commerce.”

Still, Young Skywalker, the neologistic mailstream is a pretty good way of getting the market to re-define the company’s business. Wall Street seems to value the idea, since the company’s stock has gone up about 20% in the past year.

One thing I noticed is that the mailstream concept is not quickly apparent on Pitney Bowes’s main site. At 87 years old, Pitney Bowes is “Engineering the flow of communication” as its trademarked website slogan says – but it also has a huge investment in all the technologies and the sales efforts that have gone before the mailstream concept was created. Once you finally get down to it, mailstream refers to the “software, hardware and services that help companies manage their flow of mail, documents and packages to improve communication.”

Pitney Bowes’s vice president and CMO, Arun Sinha, was quoted in a company news release this way: “Pitney Bowes introduced a new business category, mailstream, at the beginning of the year (2006), and it is now a $250 billion category. Our goal was to build awareness for the mailstream as a category.”

The company's “Innovations in the Mailstream” concept is one attempt to shift its $5.5-billion self out of the old business-machines-and-office-equipment profile into something grander…while taking its customers and its employees along with it.

I think the company’s going to have to push real hard and real long to make this mailstream thing happen: the burden of changing your company’s culture. It takes more than marketing communications to move the load.

I hope it works, though. With the price of a first-class US stamp going up to 41¢ next week, I say we need all the mailstreaming we can get.

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